We often give back to each other and serve our communities without fanfare or desire for recognition. But the work of neighbors supporting neighbors deserves to be celebrated and shared. So it’s fitting that local organization WeCAN (the Western Communities Action Network) is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month by welcoming community members to engage with its work and services.
WeCAN, founded in 1989 to address a lack of social service programs for low-income families in the area, serves community individuals and families in need. Its support takes many forms, including emergency assistance, family programs, food support and employment programs.
“I’d love for people to know about the vast array of services we provide,” says WeCAN executive director Christine Larson. “We have so many options to connect people to the right service or to donate to a type of program.”
Finding the right service for people in need is a particular strength of WeCAN’s staff, from helping a recently unemployed father apply for jobs so he could secure housing, to helping a single woman who was laid off and couldn’t pay rent find affordable housing and work on her resume and interviewing skills to land a stable job.
To help spread awareness of its many programs and opportunities, WeCAN is kicking off its 30th anniversary celebration with an open house on May 16. “It’s a chance for anyone in the community to come in and celebrate, get tours of the office, and get a visual understanding of the work that we do,” says Larson.
Looking back on WeCAN’s many years of service, Larson, who has been the executive director for five years, notes that the biggest shift relates to scope. “In the last 30 years, we went from being a small volunteer-run organization helping a few hundred people a year into an organization with a professionally trained staff, equipped to deal with complex situations,” she says. “Our clients face crisis and poverty, which is really complicated—it’s not just one issue that placed them in crisis.”
In recent years, WeCAN’s focus has expanded to ensure that its staff are taking a holistic look at how to serve clients.
“We want to make sure that if a client comes into our office, they’re being provided with everything they can use,” says Larson. “They may come in looking for Meals on Wheels, but we’ll sit down with them to check on their financial situation, housing needs, and so on, to make sure they have a full spectrum of services available.”
All of WeCAN’s initiatives are conducted with this premium level of service. For example, WeCAN’s mobile food shelf works to reach rural communities with hunger needs, whose residents often have to overcome additional barriers—like transportation—to access food.
Looking towards the future, Larson anticipates more mobile services like this and hopes that WeCAN will continue to grow and help the community as its members and needs change.
While there’s always more work to do and ways to grow and change, one thing has remained the same since WeCAN’s founding 30 years ago: the support from the community.
“Our primary source of funds are donations from people in our community,” says Larson. “The residents see the work that we do and are really supportive. We couldn’t do the work we do without our community supporters, volunteers, and donors.”